July 17, 2012

The Holy Synod’s Letter—in the Diocese of the South

Just one reflection for today.
I was invited a few months ago by Archbishop Nikon to join the clergy and laity of the Diocese of the South for their Assembly in Miami starting today (I arrived yesterday). A lot has changed since then. Earlier this month the special assembly that was to be added this week to nominate a candidate for bishop was postponed. Last Friday Metropolitan Jonah resigned.  Since then internet chatter and increasingly strident demands for more information kept driving up anxiety. And yesterday, as I was just settling in, the Holy Synod issued a clear and sober statement about the reasons they had asked for Met Jonah’s resignation.  The letter speaks for itself, but there is sadness all around. When one member of the Body suffers, all suffer.  And here multiple members are suffering. May God enable all of us to work through this difficult period with compassion, mercy and forgiveness as well as justice. As Met Kallistos (Ware) has said, love without truth is not love; but truth without love is not truth. 

Administrative types like me sometimes think that we can assess how people are reacting simply by monitoring the internet. That’s a big mistake.  Which is why I like to get out into the field and talk to clergy and laity. Here in Miami, talking yesterday with representatives from the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida I get the sense that people are saddened by recent events but not overwhelmed. On the contrary, last night I went out to dinner with Abp Nikon, Fr Marcus Burch (DOS Chancellor), other clergy and laity and was inspired by their good humor and stories of faith. Kathy for example (she let me use her name). She was raised in a Mennonite family (“They were good Christian people”), but her whole life she was looking for deeper liturgical worship of God (“when I was eight I even asked if at Christmas we could have candles and sing carols in our otherwise very plain Mennonite home”). Discovery of Orthodox worship left her amazed and filled with gratitude that there was such a church to fulfill her childhood longing. “The first service I ever attended was Pentecost—three hours in high heels! But I knew I had come home.”

It rained for two solid hours last night while we were having dinner. Thunder and lightning. Our churches will have to weather storms now and in the future. But as I discover time and again, our churches are also filled with people like Kathy who have a sense of purpose and perspective and wisdom beyond the thunderstorms of the moment.

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I love the Morning Prayer of St Philaret of Moscow (+1867). It’s especially good for times like these. The prayer was originally written by the French Roman Catholic bishop and spiritual writer Francois Fenelon (+1715), adopted by St Philaret and then further popularized by the Optina Elders. If you don’t know it, here it is.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen.